The kids are asking the usual scientific questions regarding Father Christmas. I was never comfortable with telling them that story. I remember finding out the truth myself, aged about 7. My immediate reaction was to make up my own Christmas myth involving sort of goddess figure based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, only she was nice and left chocolates. I had my brother believing in her for about two weeks. At the same time, their first year at a so-called “non-denominational” school in Glasgow has introduced my children to the christian god and the baby jesus, certainly not characters in any tale I’ve told them. I felt bad enough about telling them the christmas lies. It is wonderful that children believe in magic, and I am happy for them to believe in fairies, witches, flying carpets, superpowers, even heaven, but I do not like the way it is exploited by churches and other advertisers and salespeople. Interestingly, the line that ends “The Snow Queen” is a very telling piece of marketing: “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” In other words, you need to believe everything we say. Religion and the dreams peddled by advertisers are all based around comforting and infantalising adults so that their wants and needs can be controlled and manipulated. We all want to believe in magic that can rescue us. The trick is to find that magic in yourself – not a partner, god, or product, or a big red-coated present-delivering magician.
Still, I celebrate christmas with my children, and it’s wonderful fun. I don’t mind the harvest festival either, expect for the required singing in church again. The more soft pagan elements to these rituals, and their focus on family and sharing, make them easier to celebrate in good conscience. I know it’s the human way to tell stories to make sense of life, and as a writer I have no problem with that. But I do like to have some control over the stories told to my children. I should have more faith – in them I mean. I learned to discriminate, and I’m sure they will too. And it is, after all, up to them what they believe.
Actor David Warren, who has been playing Santa for the past ten years, holds seven-month-old Olivia Ruch at Santa’s Grotto in Selfridges department store in London. Image (c) Suzanne Plunkett/REUTERS.